Maybe The Good Old Days Weren’t So Bad When It Came To Family Life

In polite society, people are expected to celebrate rather than lament the passing of the married-heteros-plus-kids household as a dominant norm. Bubbling under the surface, though, is considerable unease with the trajectory of family life. We get a look at this in a survey commissioned by Redbook and Martindale-Hubbell’s from LexisNexis, fielded by Harris Interactive.

Respondents split evenly on whether there’s “a lot of pressure in society to have a traditional family structure,” with 49 percent agreeing and 51 percent disagreeing. When asked whether there’s “more than one way to define the term ‘family,’ ” 72 percent agreed that this is so. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they believe it’s a good thing. Seventy percent said families have changed for the worse from a generation ago. While most common among older folks, this view also commanded a majority of the 18-29-year-olds (58 percent). Strikingly, 68 percent of respondents agreed that “Changes in the overall structure of the American family have negatively impacted America’s place in the world.”

One part of the poll asked people to gauge the effect some factors have had “on maintaining a stable family life.” Fifty percent said “dual-career couples” have had a negative effect (vs. 18 percent seeing a positive effect and the rest seeing no effect either way). There was similar disapproval of “consumer culture” (57 percent negative vs. 14 percent positive), “same-sex couples” (53 percent vs. 13 percent) and “single parenthood” (54 percent vs. 12 percent). The tally was even worse for “television” (71 percent negative, 8 percent positive). In a class by itself was “divorce rates,” with 88 percent seeing a negative effect (vs. a puzzling 4 percent seeing a positive effect).

When asked if specific family structures are acceptable or not, respondents were more reluctant to be judgmental. The strongest disapproval was for a same-sex couple raising kids, with 41 percent saying this is “not at all acceptable.” But nearly as many (33 percent) gave that rating to a same-sex couple living together without kids, though a slim majority found such a household either “acceptable” (28 percent) or “very acceptable” (24 percent). Few people (3 percent) said it’s not at all acceptable for a single mother to raise kids, with another 15 percent calling it “somewhat acceptable.” Respondents were stricter about unmarried heterosexual couples raising kids, with 18 percent saying this arrangement is not at all acceptable and 24 percent saying it’s just somewhat so. If it’s now considered bad form to look askance at single mothers, this taboo apparently doesn’t shield unmarried couples with kids.